Sweet lord, I’ve played a lot of Warhammer for this feature. I’ve become the Bad Games Inquisitor, seeking out the average and the disappointing, passing judgement in the Emperor’s name. And I still feel there are some I’ve missed, concealed in the inky recesses of Steam, hidden like 6/10 heretics. Suffer not the mediocre tie-in to live.
It’s actually been difficult for the wrong reasons. Despite Warhammer games being released at the same rate as bolter rounds, it’s surprisingly difficult to find real stinkers on Steam. Maybe the standard is getting higher; maybe the truly shatto ones have been delisted. The sad downside is only I agreed to do this because a) money and b) I thought I’d get to play loads of middling, 7/10 fantasy games that I somehow missed first time around. But no. They’re all annoyingly good. People rightly love Blood Bowl 2, Mordheim, and Warhammer Quest. Even Man o’ War: Corsair—a game I reviewed and and sort-of loved despite it slowly capsizing as I played it—is popular on Steam. That means the list is mainly comprised of hopeless 40k spin-offs, which, when you think about it, works nicely with the Inquisitor narrative I’ve just invented. Ready my Excruciator, cherub. I’m going in.
Space Hulk: Deathwing
Steam Reception: RECENT—Mostly Positive (142 reviews) OVERALL—Mixed (4,091 reviews)
“I'm going to keep playing, but I wouldn't recommend buying this unless it's on a steep sale, even if you're a die-hard WH40K fan like me. Sad.”—Budamon
OH COME ON. How is this one bad? Everything about this feels like it should be bloody brilliant. The opening is like Robocop with tech-priests. Servo-skulls whizz around me; mechanical appendages fit my tactical dreadnought armour; I eat baby food and recount my Prime Directives (okay: that one’s a lie). It feature the coolest Space Marine chapter of them all—Dark Angels, baby!—on a cursed hulk, shooting up the most compelling baddies in the mythology. How can this many people on Steam be wrong?
After an hour of stomping around I think I get it. It all looks incredible—one of the best representations of the bleak, pseudo-Christian environments in 40k, with twisting corridors and threatening shadows—but something is off. The Codex entry for Genestealers describes them as cunning, but in my experience they just funnel down corridors into Storm Bolter fire. It’s certainly not terrible, though. It’s been patched loads since an apparently disastrous release, and might be worth another if you fancy exploring some dark, twisty hulks as a Terminator. It’s the most ‘premium’ game I played, and the tone is spot on.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
Steam Reception: OVERALL—Mixed (2,974 reviews)
“I honestly thought this would be a real treat to play, but it's just… it's just terrible.”—[PHC-MC]Septic
Two games down, and initially made me feel like Steam reviews are the deceptive work of the ruinous powers. I had to stop and check Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally downloaded the wrong game. But no. Sure enough, people think Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a bit bum.
It’s surprising. It looks shit-the-bed incredible—with the wonderfully detailed space cathedrals of 40k floating in crisp, bright nebulae. The Iconography is beautiful, too—as a guy who only played 40k and Space Hulk tabletop games, the naval stuff felt vague, briefly glimpsed in Codexes or alluded to in the stories about the Emperor. Seeing it realised in such detail is pretty cool. But I do get why people don’t like it. It’s very micro manage-y, rather stressful, and the multiplayer is wildly unbalanced. This is one of the games I’ll keep trying, though, if only to sit in my cosmic cathedral looking troubled, staring out into the stars. A fantastic representation of a universe, then, but a slightly wearying game
Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade
Steam reception: RECENT—Mixed (307 reviews) OVERALL—Mixed (8,888 reviews)
“TL;DR: The game looked promising. Bought into it with $20 premium. Game slowly died over the next few months from there on. No fun to be had.”—Frau the Fatass Pony Queen
This feels like a weird one. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more fanfare about it, since the concept seems so cool—a persistent online game set in the Warhammer 40k universe, that lets you switch between classes made famous by the tabletop game. The simple analogy is, “hey, this is Destiny with Dark Reapers!”, and that’s definitely a thing I want.
It’s not that, obviously. It feels pretty fun at first, but I can barely scratch the surface. I love seeing characters previously only glimpsed as miniatures, but it does feel a bit sparse. There are a few people running about, but we all feel like lost souls. Actually teaming up for a mission would be tricky. It’s not that this one’s bad, then—just empty and a bit glum. I also feel like going any deeper might be like joining a cult, and I’ll lose months of my life trying to find the correct plumage for my Howling Banshee. Step away.
Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team
Steam reception: OVERALL—Mixed (533 reviews)
“I love my Warhammer 40k games. But this? No.”—Moist Noodles
Now this is what I came here for. This isn’t a mainstream title that disappointed hardcore fans, or an under budget experiment always doomed to fail. This is an honest, doughy, fun-for-a-few hours twin stick shooter. If it was a Space Marine chapter it would be the Imperial Fists. Nothing ambitious. Mostly reliable. The Ronseal Marines.
I like getting to chose different types of marines to purge Orks, and I quite enjoy the ramshackle presentation of it all. Everything I shoot seems to explode. Orks make wonderful bullet sponges. On the downside my Space Marine Librarian does have a tendency to prance into battle, which makes him look less threatening. Also, for some reason, the slow-motion kill cam makes him jump in the air like he’s splendidly excited because it’s Christmas morning and Chapter Master got him a new scroll for his power axe. It’s frantic, enjoyable nonsense—it’d probably be great fun with a friend.
Steam reception: OVERALL—Mixed (145 reviews)
“It pained me so much to play this through... its so bad, combat system to the clunky movement, its horrific, graphically bad too.. what a mess they have made with this.”—Jaxx
I expected more of the games on this list to be like this. It’s utterly bizarre. There’s barely an explanation of what you’re doing or why. I’m certain the books this is based on are perfectly lovely, but I don’t know who I am, who I just murdered, or how to duck.
Eisenhorn is probably the only really shonky thing I’ve played. It controls a bit like Man o’ War: Corsair, but I like it less because I can’t fight massive sharks. It also shows it’s easier to be forgiving of simpler, turn based games, while a full 3D adventure feel wobbly by comparison. The presentation is strange, too—it’s like playing a migraine. The story is apparently great, but I’d rather read the books.
Talisman: The Horus Heresy
Steam reception: OVERALL—Mixed (136 reviews)
“Honestly I am going to be frank with this review, I love Warhammer 40,000. I really do, but Horus Heresy Talisman is utter garbage.”—Shenanigans
This one feels like the opposite of Kill Team: if nothing else, reviewing all these has shown me that Warhammer tie-ins really do cater for every type of gamer. This is a 40k spin-off of the fantasy board game, originally released by Games Workshop but now licensed by Fantasy Flight.
I love the setting—the Horus Heresy is a fabulous piece of fiction, like a Greek tragedy with Lightning Claws—but truthfully, this one feels a bit impenetrable. Much of that is do with a slightly muddled UI and a rushed tutorial, but I still can tell there’s something deep and interesting in here. Also, just like playing 40k, Chaos seem to get all the good shit. They keep rolling 6s while I keep rolling 1s. Enjoy your dark bargain, dickheads. At least I get to keep my soul.
Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon—Da Orks
Steam reception: OVERALL—Mixed (20 reviews)
“Absoluterly awful game, no wonder its cheap. Played warhammer games for years this is horrible, so slow and annoying.”—S_williamson
I want to sit this game down with a mug of cocoa and tell it not to listen to those nasty Steam reviews. It’s like sticking your child’s artwork on your fridge door even though they’ve drawn you with seven fingers and cutlery where your legs should be. It’s empty and brown and a bit sad, but it’s trying so hard I rather like it.
It’s basic, tolerable, turn based strategy. The lack of animation and fuzzy sound make it feel like a minigame in a bigger production, but it’s functional. There’s something a bit lost and empty about it, though. It feels forgotten and forlorn, like a dropped child’s toy. There’s probably a foreign word that describes exactly the sensation; one without an English translation. I’ve made myself sad thinking about it. Can I play a different game now?
Dawn of War 3
Steam reception: RECENT: Mostly Negative (420 reviews) OVERALL: Mixed (4,857 reviews)
“The hate for this heresy is not undue.”—Hofmar
Most of the games on this list feel like tie-ins that snuck onto steam while Games Workshop wasn’t watching. Dawn of War III, quite obviously, is different. It’s hated for another set of reasons. Instead of being buggy, broken, or sadly forgettable, this is something far worse: unpopular.
I quite liked Dawn of War III, but I accept that it’s not the sequel people who loved the first two games wanted. It’s a tough bar to reach - Dawn of War: Dark Crusade is still the highest-rated Warhammer game on Steam—but it feels really sad to see such a handsomely crafted game on the same list as Kill Team and Eisenhorn: XENOS. I’m having a Jake LaMotta at the end of Raging Bull moment. Let’s move on.
Warhammer Arcane Magic
Steam reception: OVERALL—Mixed (37 reviews)
“It's great, except for the fact that you can't play past the first few levels because of bugs.”—Endlessxaura
FINALLY. I finally managed to find a fantasy tie-in game that people hate. I’m pretty excited playing this one, because I’m secretly more into trolls and swords than drop pods and tanks. But also: I hate magic users in Warhammer, because I’m a dwarf-loving wizard bigot, so this one is less tempting than it should be. But also also: Chaos: Battle of the Wizards was my favourite game growing up, and I love Chaos Reborn, so we might be alright
I don’t hate this. The presentation is crazy - like an arcane tome written in comic sans—but it’s cheerfully done. Like almost every game I’ve played for this feature, there’s a Bovril-rich voiceover by someone who sounds like they’ve been fired from the Royal Shakespeare Company for fist fighting their understudy. It’s wonderfully silly. The Cygors look like they’re lost. There’s wizard banter. It doesn’t seem like there’s much substance here—there are only a few scenarios, and you have to pay for the Lustria expansion—but after 10 hours of Grim Darkness, a bit of bright fantasy is very welcome.